Monday, November 30, 2009

Nadi Shodhana Pranayama

Nadi Shodhana Pranayama

The word nadi means channel and shodhana means cleansing or purification. Nadi Shodhana translates as the practice that purifies the energy channels of our body. While Nadi Shodhana is reputed to be a practice that can lead to spiritual awakening, it can also do amazing things for our mind and our body. It is recommended for those who are anxious, stressed, or engaged in mental work; and is a great way to end any Hatha Yoga session.
Hand Position:
Assume Nasagra Mudra by resting the index and middle finger of the right hand between the eyebrows, palm of the hand facing you. Both the hand and fingers should be relaxed. The ring finger is above the left nostril and the thumb is above the right. These two fingers will be used to control the flow of breath in the nostrils.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama Technique:
Sit in a comfortable meditation position, with the spine straight. Begin to relax the whole body by closing the eyes. Begin yogic breathing until the breath becomes stable and even. Assume Nasagra Mudra with you right hand. Relax your left hand on the knee in Jnana or Chin Mudra. Close the right nostril with the thumb and inhale in through the left nostril. Count the length of the inhale, 1,2,3,4,5; until you reach your full yet comfortable inhalation. Do not strain. That will be the count that you maintain through your practice.
Close the left nostril with the ring finger, release the thumb from the right nostril, and exhale through the right nostril to the same count as inhale 5,4,3,2,1.
Next, inhale through the right nostril, counting as you did before. At the end of the inhale, plug the right nostril and exhale through the left continuing the counting.
This is one full round of Nadi Shodhana. Inhaling left, exhaling right, inhaling right, exhaling left, creates a full round. Start by doing 10 rounds at a time or for 5 minutes. Slowly increase the amount of time you practice by adding one more minute every one to two weeks if there is no strain.
Note: If you are unable to breathe through the nose or one sinus is clogged you will not be able to do the practice. The air has to move without obstruction to perform the Pranayama. To clean the sinus, perform Jala Neti, nasal cleansing with water. Neti pots can be purchased at most pharmacies and Indian groceries, and the procedure is simple to perform. Ask an experienced Yoga educator for further information on Jala Neti and the technique.
Do not rush to lengthen of the inhale or exhale. After a week or two of practicing your count, you can begin to lengthen the ratio by one. Continue in this way increasing the count every few weeks until you reach 12:12. If there is ever any strain or discomfort reduce the count.
In the traditional Yoga texts there are numerous rules, regulations, and warnings for practicing Pranayamas. The most important point, found in every text, is to practice moderation and use common sense. Never strain, and never go beyond your capacity. The lungs are very delicate and can easily be damaged. Pranayamas also increase the flow and absorption of Prana, the life force-also known as Chi in Chinese medicine. This can have numerous effects on many different levels of our being. Anyone who is interested in dedicated study of Pranayamas or going beyond the beginning level of techniques should seek the guidance of a Guru or experienced Yoga educator. One should always practice under competent guidance, and never rush.
And, all the wonderful benefits:
Nadi Shodhana supplies the body with extra oxygen. With this extra oxygen, carbon dioxide is forced from the body and the blood is purified of impurities and toxins. The extra oxygen helps the brain to function at its best. A few minutes of practice will induce a deep state of relaxation and peace. It helps to relieve stress, bring mental clarity, and focus. It is a wonderful technique for people who are feeling stressed, anxious, or tired. It brings the Pranas into harmony and helps to balance Ida Nadi, the passive channel, and Pingala Nadi, the active channel. One of the central focuses of Hatha Yoga is to balance Ida and Pingala Nadi so that Prana can flow into the central channel, Sushumna Nadi, which leads to deep states of meditation and spiritual awakening.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Five Great Elements and the Three Doshas

Pancha MahaBhutas
The great seers of Ayurveda, the Rishis, expounded the theory of Pancha MahaBhutas, or the five great elements. The five great elements consist of Akasha (Space), Vayu (Air), Tejas (Fire) Apas (Water) and Prithvi (Earth). The Rishis used this theory to explain how all internal and external forces work together and are linked together in the Universe. These Rishis perceived that the world originally existed in an unmanifested state. From the unmanifested state came the cosmic vibration of Om. From this soundless, subtle, vibration the element of Akasha or Space became present in the Universe. Through this medium of Space the element of movement known as Vayu or Air came into being. Through movement and friction, heat was created forming light and the element of Tejas or Fire. When the heat began to dissolve elements it formed the element of Apas or Water. As this element solidified it became Prithvi, or The Earth Element. Through this process the element of Ether allowed all of the other elements to come into existence.
The five basic elements exist in all matter. In fact, another definition for Pancha MahaBhutas is the Five Great States of Material Existence. All five elements originated in the great cosmic consciousness of the Universe and all five are present in all matters of the Universe. Having an understanding of the Pancha MahaBhutas will help us to better understand the building blocks of the world that we live in, and help us to make more
informed choices for how we live our life and how we practice.
The Space element (Akasha) is the idea of connectedness and spaciousness. In the body, Space represents all the cavities and empty spaces of the body. In the mind it represents our consciousness.
The Air element (Vayu) is the idea of motion. In the body, Air represents all movement of nerves, breath, and limbs. In the mind it is the power behind our thoughts.
The Fire element (Tejas) is the idea of light, heat, and transformation. In the body, Fire represents all digestion and transformation. In the mind it represents perception and intelligence.
The Water element (Apas) is the concept of flow and liquidity. In the body, Water represents all the liquids of the body. In the mind it represents loving and compassionate thoughts and emotions.
The Earth element (Prithvi) is the concept of solidity. In the body, Earth represents our physical body. In the mind it represents stability.
Tridoshic Theory
According to Ayurveda, the entire universe is a play between the five great elements. These elements are further broken down into three groups of energies that are present in everyone and everything. These three groups are called the Doshas. The word Dosha literally means faulty or to cause harm, but the Doshas only cause harm when out of balance. In a healthy state the Doshas are what maintain good health and guide the body in normal function and processes. These three Doshas are known as Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
Vata Dosha is primarily composed of Ether and Air. It is the principle that is responsible for all movement in the body. It governs our breathing, moves nutrients and wastes, retrieves previous data from our memories, stores new thoughts, and controls muscle and tissue movement. Its primary attributes are that it is dry, cold, and light. When in balance, Vata promotes creativity and adaptability. When out of balance, it produces fear, anxiety, and abnormal movements of all sorts. An excess of Vata in our environment can be thought of as a windy fall day.
Pitta Dosha is primarily composed of Fire and a small amount of Water. It is the principle that is responsible for digestion, absorption, assimilation, and metabolism. Its primary attributes are hot, light, and moist. When in balance, Pitta promotes understanding, intelligence, and right judgment. When out of balance, Pitta shows up as anger, jealousy, hatred, inflammatory disorders, and skin and blood disorders. To think of Pitta in our environment imagine eating really spicy Thai food, or being out in the Sun at noon on a hot summer day.
Kapha Dosha is primarily composed of Water and Earth. Kapha is what holds us together. It is the principle that is responsible for the form of the body, lubricating joints, moisture in the skin, and helps to maintain our immunity. Its primary attributes are heavy, cold, and moist. In balance, Kapha shows up as love, calmness, and stability. When out of balance, Kapha leads to attachment, greed, controlling nature, and congestive disorders. To think of Kapha in our environment imagine a cold and wet winter’s day.
It’s easy to look at these basic principles and find a way to apply them to your life. Here are a few examples. If you notice you are feeling anxious and fearful, it might not be a good idea to take an aerobics class where you move constantly to loud music for an hour. Anxiety and fear are traits of Vata, which is composed of Space and Air. Adding more Space and Air to your life might make the situation worse. An easy remedy for anxiety is to do Yogic Asana that are gentle and held for a longer period of time to calm the Vata and reestablish your Earth and Water element. Or, imagine a hot summer day and you are felling angry or irritated. Do you think this would be a good time to go and eat some spicy food? Fire added to Fire just makes more heat. One more example, wintertime is Kapha time, it’s cold, moist, and heavy. If you were trying to balance your excess Kapha qualities this would be the time for your spicy dinner and hot fast aerobic classes.
The following is a list of the classical attributes of each Dosha. See if you can find the connection and how to apply this amazing gift of knowledge to your life.
Cold, dry, light, subtle, flowing, mobile, sharp, hard, rough, and clear.
Hot, moist, light, subtle, flowing, mobile, sharp, soft, smooth, and clear.
Cold, moist, heavy, gross, dense, static, dull, soft, smooth, and cloudy.
Om Namah Shivaya

Intro to Ayurveda

The word Ayurveda comes from Sanskrit, the oldest written language on Earth. The term has two roots Ayuh, which means life, and Veda, which means knowledge. Therefore, the term Ayurveda means the knowledge of life. This knowledge was passed onto us by the great seers, the Rishis, and is more than a mere understanding of facts but is a direct perception of the ultimate truth. This is truth in both the subtle and the gross, as the system addresses the body, mind, and soul. Ayurveda is both a medical system and a philosophical system that has been passed down for thousands of years.
Ayurveda is based on the Shad Darshan, the Six Philosophies of Life, teachings from the ancient scriptures of India. These scriptures, which some say are over 10,000 years old, are called the Vedas. There are four main Vedas: Rigveda, Yajurveda, Atharvaveda, and Samaveda. The Vedas are some of the oldest bodies of written knowledge known to humans.
There are also secondary texts called the Upa-Vedas, Ayurvedic teachings are a part of these secondary texts. One must understand that the Vedic tradition is one of pure knowledge and understanding revealed by the Rishis. This is knowledge that came from meditation and the hearts of sages. The Rishis teachings were originally passed down orally from teacher to student. The first Ayurvedic text, Charaka Samhita, was written around 400 B.C.
The six systems of Indian philosophy, the Shad Darshan, are Sankhya, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, Yoga, and Vedanta. The six systems represent ways of orientating ourselves with the world around us, or six views of life. These are the six systems that Ayurveda utilizes to help people heal and live in balance. Three of these systems, Sankhya, Nyaya, and Vaisheshaka, deal with understanding our experience in the physical world that we live in-our external reality. The systems are based on logical reasoning, cause and effect, and understanding how the physical universe functions and came into being.
The systems of Yoga, Mimamsa, and Vedanta are based on finding an understanding of our inner reality. Their focus is on our spiritual evolution and how we can obtain our highest spiritual self. All six of these philosophies have as a base the desire to alleviate pain and suffering, which is common for all human beings.
The Ayurvedic approach concentrates on finding the balance in life that is correct for us. Each individual has a unique Constitution and therefore has their own individual path to full health and spiritual enlightenment. Ayurveda is unique because it incorporates medicine, life style changes, and spiritual practice into one system that can bring us back to balance and into compete wholeness.
A famous Vedic prayer encompasses the idea of Ayurveda:
Lead me from darkness into light
Lead me from untruth into truth
Lead me from mortality to immortality.